Acoustic emission (AE) is the phenomenon of radiation of acoustic (elastic) waves in solids that occurs when a material undergoes irreversible changes in its internal structure, for example as a result of crack formation or plastic deformation due to aging, temperature gradients or external mechanical forces. In particular, AE is occurring during the processes of mechanical loading of materials and structures accompanied by structural changes that generate local sources of elastic waves.
This results in small surface displacements of a material produced by elastic or stress waves generated when the accumulated elastic energy in a material or on its surface is released rapidly. The waves generated by sources of AE are of practical interest in the field of structural health monitoring (SHM), quality control, system feedback, process monitoring and others. In SHM applications, AE is typically used to detect, locate and characterise damage.
AE is commonly defined as transient elastic waves within a material, caused by the rapid release of localized stress energy. Hence, an event source is the phenomenon which releases elastic energy into the material, which then propagates as an elastic wave. Acoustic emissions can be detected in frequency ranges under 1 kHz, and have been reported at frequencies up to 100 MHz, but most of the released energy is within the 1 kHz to 1 MHz range. Rapid stress-releasing events generate a spectrum of stress waves starting at 0 Hz, and typically falling off at several MHz
The three major applications of AE techniques are:
1) Source location - determine the locations where an event source occurred
2) Material mechanical performance - evaluate and characterize materials/structures and
3) Health monitoring - monitor the safety operation of a structure, i.e. bridges, pressure containers, and pipe lines, etc.